Arizona Diamondbacks: The Arizona Diamondbacks are suffering through a painful season. Like Clancy Wiggum, they appear competent enough to the general public, but when someone goes sniffing around the Springfield Police Department, they see an operation rife with inefficiency. The same can be said for the D’backs. People in the general media lauded their off-season acquisitions, hand-waving away the great cost to Arizona.
Using Nate Silver’s marginal revenue product formula, we can do some quick and dirty calculations on the Diamondbacks’ season:
Player Salary($) WARP1 Value($) Diff($) Craig Counsell 1.350 6.7 14.338 12.988 Brandon Webb .715 5.7 12.19 11.483 Chad Tracy .335 3.9 8.346 8.011 Tony Clark .750 3.6 7.704 6.954 Jose Valverde .335 3.0 6.420 6.085 Shawn Green 8.500 6.7 14.338 5.838 Brad Halsey .318 2.1 4.494 4.177 Claudio Vargas .325 2.0 4.280 3.955 Shawn Estes 2.500 2.8 5.992 3.492 Troy Glaus 9.000 5.8 12.412 3.412 Royce Clayton 1.350 1.9 4.066 2.716 Alex Cintron .360 1.0 2.140 1.780 Luis Terrero .321 0.7 1.498 1.177 Chris Snyder .318 0.6 1.284 .966 Mike Koplove .825 0.7 1.498 .673 Koyie Hill .318 0.4 .856 .538 Brandon Lyon .350 0.1 .214 -.136 Jerry Gil .318 0.0 .000 -.318 Luis Gonzalez 10.083 4.5 9.630 -.453 Brian Bruney .323 -0.2 -.428 -.751 Quinton McCracken .750 -0.1 -.214 -.964 Greg Aquino .325 -0.3 -.642 -.967 Javier Vazquez 11.000 4.1 8.774 -2.226 Tim Worrell 3.050 0.3 .642 -2.408 Russ Ortiz 7.375 0.2 .428 -6.947 TOTAL 61.193 56.2 120.268 59.075 (All $ figures in millions)
Pretty sweet, huh? Well, sort of. The $59.075 million in value puts them third in the NL West, behind San Diego and Colorado, and looking at the numbers, there is the argument that the Dodgers and Giants would also better this number had they stayed healthy. The real problem with this chart is in how payroll is allocated. Five players–Javier Vazquez, Luis Gonzalez, Troy Glaus, Shawn Green, and Russ Ortiz–swallow 75% of the payroll. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if the player is worth the money, like Green and Glaus have been. But when you have guys like Gonzalez, Vazquez and Ortiz sucking up your payroll and not playing up to their pay, then you’d better hope your owner’s last name is McCourt, Wilpon, Angelos, Steinbrenner or Henry.
That is not the case in Arizona. The Diamondbacks are a mid-market team with a mid-level payroll that cannot sustain such drains. Contracts like Ortiz’s forces the Diamondbacks to strike gold with contracts like Counsell’s as well as being able to cycle in youngsters. Unfortunately, Arizona’s prime prospects, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, play the same positions as Green, Gonzalez, and Tony Clark. In short, the Diamondbacks killed any shot at establishing an effective, deep roster. Just 48% of the players used in Arizona this year have a positive VORP; only the Royals and Yankees grade out worse.
The big signings also failed to address the team’s bullpen issues. Last year, no relief pitcher had an Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) score higher than 10.9, making their best guy, Mike Koplove, the 75th-best reliever in 2004. This was clearly a problem area, but with all the cash allocated elsewhere, the Snakes were forced to hand the ball to in-house players. The results have not been good, as the Arizona bullpen has been awful this year. Using ARP we can see that the Arizona bullpen is feet and ankles below the competition:
Team ARP Cincinnati -13.4 Texas -13.9 Tampa Bay -16.2 Boston -28.9 Arizona -73.3
If you totaled the ineptitude of the other four teams on this list, you still would not reach the -73.3 that Arizona has compiled in 2005.
The D’backs don’t play defense, they have no bullpen, they have little depth, too many bloated contracts, and to top it all off they have been the 6th luckiest team in baseball. While a fun, new name for the Diamondbacks park would be “Pennant Chase Park”, such a name is unlikely to ring true anytime in the near future. But never say never, as even Chief Wiggum catches Sideshow Bob in the act once in awhile…
Minnesota Twins: The Twins are on their way to a historic season from their pitching staff, and they’re being led there by a 26-year old Venezuelan, though not the one you might expect.
Through 144 games, the Twins have issued 307 walks. If they continue at that rate for the next 18 games, they’ll end up giving out 345 free passes for the season. Now, a stat like “team walks allowed” isn’t one that has a benchmark that everyone knows, so just be assured that this is a low total. Very low. Historically low. The last team to go a full (non-strike) season and walk that few batters was the 1968 San Francisco Giants, who walked 344. The last time an American League team gave up so few walks was 1919, when the White Sox walked 342 (in a 154-game season). Since 1920, only eight AL pitching staffs have walked fewer than 400 batters in a full season:
1944 PHI AL 390 1966 MIN AL 392 1967 MIN AL 396 1972 BAL AL 395 1977 BOS AL 378 1978 MIL AL 398 1979 MIL AL 381 2003 NYY AL 375
Eddie Cicotte was the stingiest pitcher on the 1919 Sox, walking 49 in 306 2/3 innings (1.44 K/9). In “The Year of the Pitcher,” Juan Marichal walked 46 batters in his 326 innings, a BB/9 of 1.27. Minnesota lefty Jim Merritt walked only 1.19 batters per nine in 1967. Impressive numbers, but nothing compared to what Carlos Silva is doing this year.
In his 188 1/3 innings pitched, Silva walked just nine batters. That’s one walk approximately every 21 innings, or 0.43 BB/9. In recent years, Bret Saberhagen, Bob Tewksbury, Greg Maddux, and David Wells all have stingy reputations when it comes to issuing free passes. But none of them ever aproached a 0.43 BB/9. Their best individual seasons:
Saberhagen: 1994, 177 1/3 IP, 13 BB, 0.66 BB/9 Tewksbury: 1992, 233 IP, 20 BB, 0.77 BB/9 Maddux: 1997, 232 2/3 IP, 20 BB, 0.77 BB/9 Wells: 2003, 213 IP, 20 BB, 0.85 BB/9
Even the great Dennis Eckersley, at the height of his non-walking, sub-2.00-ERA, 50-save career, never got below 0.47 BB/9. In fact, no pitcher has posted a walk rate as low as Silva’s in 125 years. The last guy to do it was George Bradley in 1880, and in case you don’t remember how the game was played in 1880, it took eight balls for the batter to get a walk that season.
After talking about the possibility of Silva doing something that literally has never been done before, it seems a bit silly to point out how close he came to something that’s only happened once in the last 86 years. He has nine wins to go along with his nine walks, and after leaving his start on Sunday after aggravating a knee injury he’s played with all year, he may not pitch again this season. If that’s the case, he won’t get a chance to end the season with more wins than walks. The list of starters with more wins than walks since 1920:
Bret Saberhagen, 1994 Mets, 14-4, 13 BB
That’s it. Before Saberhagen, the last guy to do it was Slim Sallee, in 1919, when he went 21-7 and walked 20 for the Reds.
Carlos Silva has had a truly historic year. It’s a shame that the Twins’ offense, and his own body, let him down, and that we won’t get a chance to see if he can shine on the post-season stage.
“…Assistant GM Jon Daniels’s happiest dreams involve him in the GM chair circa 2007, Danks, Dominguez and Loe anchoring a young staff, Teixeira and Blalock crushing the snot out of the ball.”
It’s not 2007 yet, of course, but with the midsummer heat having wilted any hopes the Rangers had of challenging the two AL West bullies, it’s time to look ahead. We know the team’s core strength lies in the infield. Both shortstop Michael Young and third baseman Hank Blalock are on pace to reach 25 bombs, which would mark the first time ever a team had all four regular infielders hit 25 or more home runs. (Blalock, though, has taken a step back. The disturbing splits he displayed his first two full seasons have gotten worse this year, as he has put up a 901 OPS at home versus 625 on the road, and a 663 second-half OPS versus 825 before the break.)
The Rangers can mash, but unless owner Tom Hicks relocates the franchise to Alaska, Texas is going to have to deal with its unique greenhouse effect in developing pitchers–according to research by James Click, the unforgiving summer in Arlington inflates offense in a bell-curve fashion, as runs/game and slugging jump at Ameriquest in the season’s middle months. The farm system is beginning to produce arms capable of overcoming that factor and reversing the ineptitude that has been present in Texas rotations since Kevin Brown left town, as the team now has a class of young hurlers that should be part of the first Rangers team to advance to the league championship series. Wait, we were talking about a dream, right?
Kameron Loe and Juan Dominguez have made just 10 combined starts, but are already ranked second and fourth respectively among Rangers starters in support neutral value added. The 25-year-old Dominguez has put up a 3.89 ERA in his six starts since getting recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma in mid-August, and although his peripherals this year haven’t been outstanding (33:21 K:BB, 8 HR in 49.3 IP), his minor league totals–2.60 BB/9, 8.13 K/9, 0.63 HR/9 in 273.3 innings in the California, Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, all hitter’s havens–suggest he’ll continue to improve as he settles into a starting role.
Loe, 23, is probably the Rangers prospect best suited to dominate in Texas’s environment. A 6’8″ righthander with hard, sinking stuff and strong command, Loe has the tools to combat Arlington’s homer-inflating tendencies. Jumping from Oklahoma to the Rangers bullpen in early May, Loe joined the rotation on August 26, allowing just two runs over 19 innings in his first three starts before the A’s touched him for five last Saturday. He has thrown 71 innings with Texas, walking only 19 (2.41/9) and surrendering just six homers (0.76/9), numbers complemented by his 3.07 groundball/flyball ratio, second in the AL among pitchers with 70 or more innings. The one knock this season has been his sub-standard 4.82 K/9. Loe is succeeding as is, and imagine the dominance he could display when his strikeout totals creep closer to their minor-league level (8.0 per 9 IP in nearly 380 innings).
John Danks, the southpaw of the triumvirate, is progressing towards Texas after being selected ninth in the 2003 draft out of high school. Danks spent the first part of 2005 stymieing California League (advanced A) hitters, putting up a 2.50 ERA in 57 2/3 innings, with five homers allowed and a 53/16 K/BB. His early June jump to Frisco did not go as smoothly, but the ugly 5.49 ERA in 98 1/3 innings is misleading. For a 20-year-old facing older AA competition for the first time, Danks fared fine. An elevated hit rate (117 hits, 12 HR) did him in, but the strides he made in his command in A ball–he entered 2005 having walked 3.54/9 in his two pro campaigns–held up against the tougher talent (85/34 K/BB), an excellent sign.
Thomas Diamond, recently named the Rangers’ 2005 minor league pitcher of the year, is advancing in step with Danks. Diamond was drafted out of college with the 10th pick a year after Danks, and devastated hitters in his first Cal League exposure this year. With Danks and Diamond both in the Bakersfield rotation, the Blaze earned their nickname–Diamond put up a 101/31 K/BB in 81 1/3 innings to go along with a 1.99 ERA and ridiculous three homers allowed. Two 14-strikeout games in his last three starts convinced the Rangers to move him to Frisco. Like Danks, Diamond struggled in Double-A, with a 5.35 ERA and 68/38 K/BB in 69 IP. The 22-year-old will have to fine-tune his control as he advances, but the Killer D’s are on the way…
The dark horse in Texas’s deep stable of arms, however, has already reached the majors. Dominican righthander Edison Volquez has had both his name and age change since he hit the states, fitting when you consider the confusion he’s caused for minor-league hitters. The former Julio Reyes, now 22, blew past three levels on the way to an August 30th call up to Texas. After making one appearance in the rookie Arizona League, he posted a 126/29 K/BB with 15 HR allowed in 125 1/3 innings with Bakersfield and Frisco. Volquez has gotten roughed up in his three big-league starts–16 runs in 10 2/3 innings, 9/7 K/BB–but a moving fastball that hits 97 mph and a nasty change-up, his out pitch, have the Rangers justifiably excited.
With nominal ace Kenny Rogers a free agent after the season, rookie Chris Young spearheading the rotational youth movement (22.1 VORP, 4.16 park adjusted RA) and Joaquin Benoit also making strides, the Rangers’ 2006 starting five could be a promising group composed of pitchers all in their 20s–and that scenario is a lot closer to reality than anyone’s dream.
Tom Gorman contributed research for this article